By Mike Westfall
Past UAW President and founding father, Walter
Reuther, was a strong principled labor leader of vision. Walter had a backbone and refused to become a corporate puppet. Walter
knew that if you were to get respect that you had to demand it. The companies and nation thrived, the middle class expanded
and the world respected autoworkers and copied the responsible contracts resulting from Walters’s tenure. Walter never
apologized for his workers making a decent wage, never betrayed his retirees and always said that you could tell the quality
of a union leadership by how they treated their defenseless retirees.
In the six short years since UAW President
Ron Gettelfinger has taken office he has been apologizing for and sacrificing scapegoated autoworkers wages, pensions and
benefits. The world now loathes UAW members and accept that if the their own UAW President believes their work life and standard
of living is so exceptional, that their retirees health care is so unimportant and all the painfully hard won gains won over
the life of the UAW are now gratuitous that it must be so.
Gettelfinger and his colleagues at Solidarity
House will soon retiree on their separate, lucrative, secure and healthcare protected pensions. UAW workers and retirees however
will never recover from the damage these people have done to them and their families. Gettelfinger should to be shamed and
expelled from Detroit.
In the auto loan hearings the insulated, smiling,
anti-union, photo opt. politicians and their biased and naive witnesses from academia land, none of whom has ever spent a
minute slaving on an assembly line, falsely suggested that the fault of the auto industries’ woes were due primarily
to union workers and retirees.
The politicians are wrong, the befuddled prejudiced
witnesses are wrong and what they said is bogus. The indisputable facts are that 90% of the costs of building an automobile
are “not” worker related. The particulars are that Gettelfinger’s unending concessions have not made and
“will never make a difference” because workers and retirees were never the problem.
Auto executives have been able to snooker, backslap and dance Gettelfinger to the
edge of the cliff and he pushed his trusting membership off that lethal overhang because he simply couldn’t stop saying
yes to the companies when he should have been saying no.
Many of the politicians involved in the loan
proceedings were campaigning for healthcare in the recent presidential election and were supported by a majority of autoworkers.
Now these same hypocritical double-talking politicians are using their pulpits to ridicule America’s autoworkers and
deceitfully crush the auto retirees by calling them unfortunate legacy costs as they push for the theft of their healthcare.
Instead of using the national spotlight to tell the world that retirees and workers
have been a hard working and committed workforce who have given their labor, accumulated experience, knowledge, wisdom, and
skills to advance these American based multi-national companies and build the American dream for our entire nation, Gettelfinger
has remained painfully silent.
for concessions has forced autoworkers to suffer with condemnation, substandard unfair wage configurations and sliced protective
work rules. These union officials have consciously refused to keep pension buying power of older retirees in line with inflation.
Divorcing himself from his struggling retirees,
Gettelfinger has reduced these retirees to collective beggars.
In the auto industry it is well known that the factories are unhealthy places to work. In many manufacturing plants the workers’ life expectancy is less then the normal life expectancy because of
the exposure to strong carcinogens and multiple other workplace chemicals and hazards unique to the building of automobiles.
Plants are known to have enormous long-term health problems including cancer that come from worker exposure over the decades
of labor. These diseases many times don’t surface until workers retire. Past
UAW leaders knew this and negotiated hard won retirements and health care benefits to protect retirees because of it. Corporations have always had pipe dreams of gullible union officials who
would allow them to legally walk away from their full healthcare responsibilities. Never until Ron Gettelfinger would past
UAW administrations ever consider it. It was unthinkable because Healthcare is a life and death benefit for retirees.
Gettelfinger never mentions the fact that retiree healthcare
benefits was negotiated and paid for by retirees during their working years in lieu of wages. Retirees own these benefits.
That is why Gettelfinger and company has had to go to court to get at them. As the retirees paid for these benefits during
their working years, their union officials refused to vest them and spent the retiree healthcare funds elsewhere.
Gettelfinger has betrayed
the union retirement promise. He has not only refused to negotiate basic pension increases for older retirees to keep up with
rising inflation, but also went to court to obtain the legal right to concession away the little income that they do get.
The elderly UAW retirees lacked the options
for building their own pensions available to today’s workers. Their entire wherewithal is dependent on the fixed retirement
promises made to them at the time of retirement. Simply put, elderly UAW retirees cannot afford to pay for healthcare. Stealing
the health care of these already besieged elderly retirees, whose meager pensions have lagged far behind inflation and are
much smaller than more recent retirees, would be to repay these needy retirees with a potential catastrophic health related
It now is indisputable that Gettelfinger has been running the UAW as a company union
and has used his power and influence against those he should be representing to race the clock back 70 years to evaporate
all the gains. His tenure has been both a C.E.O.’s dream and a union members nightmare. He has volunteered and sacrificed
member’s bedrock pensions, jobs, health care, benefits, wages, work rules, and worker solidarity. He has become a corporate
cheerleader “expecting continual worker sacrifices” and become the representative and facilitator for job destroying
corporate restructuring. Gettelfinger has agreed to ongoing local “ New Operating Agreements” that evaporate long-standing
job protections and allowed the companies to decimate wages by replacing existing workers with new workers at half the wages.
The ironic thing about this is that none of it had to happen. It hasn’t helped
and it won’t help. For shockingly cooperating in unreasonable ways with the corporate
executives who have shamefully used him, for refusing to defend UAW members, for taking struggling UAW retirees to
court in order to negotiate away their healthcare benefits, for ignoring the needs of workers and their families, for breaking
sacred solidarity and shamefully redefining the term union, the wretched record of Gettelfinger and his colleagues, who have betrayed the very premise of what they were elected to do, will be recorded in labor
history. That will be their dishonorable testament and legacy. The assault against
working Americans by the very powers that should be protecting them is a betrayal and a cultural tragedy. History will hold them accountable.
Relative historical links…
OFFICIALS BETRAY AUTO WORKERS ...
REUTHER SPEECH 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE UAW FLINT RALLY ...
MIKE WESTFALL SPEECH 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE
UAW FLINT RALLY ...
UAW LEADER SPEAKS OUT FOR RETIREES AND WORKERS …
ECONOMIC MANUFACTURING PRESENTATION  …
& ME –FLINT CONTROVERSY …
AND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION [1976-2008]…